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Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Nests and Easter Songs

Since today is Easter, a time of rebirth and renewal, it seems appropriate to be thinking of nesting. I like to know that the trees in our yard are homes for birds.  The intricacies  of their courting and nesting are fascinating to watch.   Even if the actual nest is not in our yard, the birds feed and court here and bring their fledglings to feed-- so we claim them. Green Jays and Altamira Orioles may be nesting outside the yard, but they are here calling each other and eating from our shrubs and feeders all day. 

Great Kiskadees continued their nest-construction today in the Ebony beside our driveway, forming the Easter-egg-shaped clump of grass and palm tree material into a larger ball and installing a side entrance.  Strangely, I think there may be more than two birds working on it, though  I'm not sure.  Perhaps an "extra" male or female is just checking it out, or perhaps its not certain yet which two are forming the "couple."  Yesterday I watched from my deck as two birds flew east from the direction of the nest, over the drive, and over the neighbor's yard.  Then another bird flew from an Oak tree and engaged one of the other two, tumbling through the air while calling loudly.  They spiraled about five  feet together and then flew off in separate directions.  

I am not going to take any more photos of the nest for a while, though I'll continue to peek at it unobtrusively.  I don't want to disturb the birds by walking in the neighbor's driveway  to point the camera back towards our tree.  Last summer was the first time the Kiskadees nested in our yard and I wonder if they liked the location because the place next door is unoccupied.  As I watch for nests, I do not want to disturb their inhabitants.  The place next door is unoccupied by humans, I should have said, but not by wildlife. 

I found this nest in a La Coma shrub, about five feet above the ground, across the drive from the Brasil that has five nests (under the hawks from the last post).  I think it is a dove's nest that was used previously but is not in use now.  The White-winged Doves are calling loudly all day "hoo Hoo hoo, hoo Hoo hoo!" or what sounds to me like "Who are you? Who are you?"   And the little Inca Doves call out "whirlpool! whirlpool!" when they take time out from snuggling and showing each other their wing-linings.  Tomorrow I hope to get my nest books in the mail from amazon.com and can start learning to identify nests.  I still plan to keep a close--but not so close I'd disturb the birds--watch on our nesting birds.  For a not so big yard we have had quite a bit of activity lately.

Some botanical notes about the nest picture above:  The La Coma (Bumelia celastrima) on the right in the nest photo is one of my favorite native trees with long spikey thorns at the ends of its twigs, creating great protected nest sites. In addition, its dark blue fruit is devoured by the birds and it has wonderfully fragrant flowers. Right next to the la coma (left in the photo) is another favorite native shrub, the Texas Baby-bonnet (Coursetia axillaris), which is thornless (unusual for native shrubs around here) and in the spring covered with tiny pink flowers that really do look like baby's bonnets.  The two photos here are closeups of the blooms of the Texas Baby-bonnet (left) and the Guayacan or "soapbush" which grows just on the other side of the Baby-bonnet.  The blooms sometimes look prettier than they do in these photos.  I took these after the tiny flowers had been beaten by the  30-40 mph winds we've had all week. They're a little bruised but still have a delicate beauty that I love.  If you live down here in south Texas, you really need to have these great native plants for butterflies, birds, and beauty. 

Here is a photo of the Brasil tree where the multiple old nests are (see the last post for more details).  I love the sort of lime green color of this tree/shrub, especially next to the dark green leaves of an Anacua tree (the two trees are together in another place in the yard where I can see them from the deck).  Brasil has berries that the birds eat and tiny green flowers.  Of course, like most shrubs in the thorny brush of South Texas, it is armed.  I think it's funny that the "real" name of the Brasil  is condalia hookeri because those thorns really will hook your eye (or arm or head) if you get too close.  Good protection for nests!  I suspect the reason the Brasil at the end of the drive has so many more nests than the large one is that we have had to trim it to keep it from scratching our cars and that makes it really compact and thick in its foliage and thorns. 

The Black-crested Titmice that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago are still hanging out around the dead cottonwood tree where Golden-fronted Woodpeckers excavated a hole about ten feet from the ground.  Notice the interesting fungus growing on the stump. And look closely at the bird, or click to enlarge the photo---you'll see a little white caterpillar in the bird's tiny beak. Although it hasn't happened yet, I expect a family of tiny titmice to be in residence here.

  Yesterday I counted about four or five titmice in the backyard trees.  The females flitter their wings and the males feed them.  At first I thought some of the birds might be fledglings, but they did not look or sound like young birds, and I realized that the fluttering and feeding are part of courtship. In both photos of titmice beside possible nesting places, they have food to offer a mate. 
Here's another photo of a bird checking out a bird house that I stuck up in a tree yesterday.   If you look closely at this photo of the bird on the blue house, you'll be able to see the moth in its beak.  I wonder if the moth had once been a caterpillar like the one in the other photo. 

I saw a rabbit, an Eastern Cottontail, by the road today, running through the culverts under two of the neighbor's drives.  Maybe it was the Easter Bunny.  If so, I'm glad it survived:  Years ago, on the eve of our first Easter in this house, our two older grandsons had just come with their parents to spend Easter with us.  Spencer was only a few months old, but Caleb  was two years old and very excited about the Easter Bunny.  When they arrived, we were all distracted, greeting the family and talking enthusiastically about the Easter bunny that would be hopping down the bunny trail by morning.  Amid the noise and confused happiness we didn't notice that the stray cat who was courting us had come in the open door and  dropped a screaming baby rabbit at our feet.  Luckily I saw, got my husband's attention but not my grandson's, and he ushered cat and rabbit out the door.  He hid the rabbit, alive but terrified, under a thorny bush where adult rabbits had been, and put the proud cat on the other side of the house. (That cat was a killer, but a sweet one.  We adopted her after she had a litter of eight kittens in Brad's closet.  She is now at least 15 years old and living out a long rabbitless, birdless life indoors. Our grandsons remained blissfully unaware until recently that she once tried to kill the Easter Bunny.)

No grandchildren are visiting on this Easter day (we had a great Spring Break with the whole crew two weeks ago), but we can hear at least a dozen kinds of birds outside the windows.  Among those I've heard in the last hour as I've been writing this:  Laughing Gull, Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Green Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, Black-crested Titmouse, Great Kiskadee, Gray Catbird, Chachalaca, Osprey, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, White-tipped Dove, Collared-dove, White-winged Dove, Carolina Wren, House Wren, House Sparrow, Altamira Oriole, Northern Cardinal.  This is not an unusual list for here and I may have actually left some out.  It doesn't even include the birds I'll see when I go back outside. We really do live in a birdwatcher's paradise!

 I am so glad the wind is not quite as noisy today so that I can hear the sound of birds which is the sound of Spring on the Arroyo Colorado in South Texas.


denapple said...

Well, it goes without saying that the male should buy dinner when you go out on a date! I don't believe in going Dutch, guess that makes me old fashioned.

Kay said...

Even if the dinner is a little wiggly caterpillar!

Jain said...

Kay the Great Kiskadee nest is terrific! We have Honey Locust trees here, with long spikey thorns (that hurt like the devil if one [ahem] is stupid enough to wear soft-soled shoes around them); it's a favorite of mine, too!

Kay said...

Jain, I know just what you mean about the soft-soled shoes. I wear those plastic garden clogs outside. They are no match for bougainvillea thorns. But then, a bougainvellea thorn has even caused a flat tire in our car!

Roger Real said...

Those Great Kiskadees are great backyard residents to have! Wonderful photos!